Spatial and temporal variability of the phytoplankton community in the tropical coastal Imboassica lagoon, an environment naturally isolated from the ocean by a narrow sandbar, was analysed every two weeks for 19 months by sampling three sites. During this study, the lagoon received direct input of marine water three times, resulting in remarkable salinity, nutrient concentrations and phytoplankton biomass variations in both temporal and spatial aspects. The phytoplankton biomass presented relatively low values ranging, on average, from 0.54 mg x L(-1) in the station closest to the sea (station 1) to 1.34 mg x L(-1) in the station close to a macrophyte bank (station 3). Diatoms and cryptomonads dominated in stations 1 and 2 (located relatively close to station 1, yet receiving the runoff of domestic sewage), and euglenoids, cryptomonads and dinoflagellates at station 3. Stations 1 and 2 usually presented the same dominant species but station 2 presented a higher phytoplankton biomass. On the other hand, station 3 showed more similar results concerning phytoplankton biomass with station 2, however the dominant species were usually different. The high fluctuations of salinity and the reduced nutrient availability are pointed out as the main factors structuring the dynamics of the phytoplankton community at the Imboassica lagoon.